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Thread: Ecovillages / intentional communities

  1. #1
    Cyburbian ruralplanner's avatar
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    Ecovillages / intentional communities

    A few years ago, while looking through old subdivision files, I came across a proposed rural subdivision that incorporated conservation subdivision design principles. This plat was in the mid-seventies. The plat covered about 300 acres of varied land features including woods, wetlands, streams, and steep ravines. There was also a map that identified ideal locations for community gardens, which seemed to incorporate aspects of the permaculture idea. The map went so far as to identify what would best grow in these areas. I think that there were about 30 small home-sites that would have been located on their own lots with the rest of the land being owned communally.

    The strange thing about this proposal was that it was days away from getting final approval and at the least minute it was pulled with no reason given. It also got some media coverage as a new way of living and while the media did not come out and call it an intentional community or ecovillage—it was really that in concept. The initial covenants were very clear to this effect.

    After seeing this plat I wished it were approved as I could see myself living there and my commute to work would be considerably shorter. Instead I settled for a house in the middle of nowhere and while there are upsides to having no neighbors, there is definitely a lack of community of like-minded people. They are there, however they are widely scattered.

    While I have never lived in an ecovillage/intentional community, I have visited them. They are not perfect, but nor is any living situation. My wife and I have had many conversations about starting an ecovillage/intentional community in the area we live. I think that there is potential and the way to make is work would be to first gather a group of interested people to just start talking about it. There is also a smattering of communal living arrangements by us—some strong—some failed—some illegal from a zoning perspective. So it is not a new concept in these parts.

    So here is the question to Cyburbians. As planners or otherwise, have you had any experience with intentional communities and beyond that are there any Cyburbains that are interested in this kind of thing?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    I have had a waxing and waning interest in Co-housing, the definitive resource for such places in the US being here: http://www.cohousing.org/default.aspx

    You can search by state for one near you and many have their own websites with more details. This is not an American concept, but a Danish model that was imported. Of the ones that I have researched, I prefer those in which participation in communal meals (ranging from once a week to once a month) are optional. I really cringe at enforced socialization, though I generally like people.

    But overall, the concept of design that orients homes toward common space to share in, say, watching the children, a common workshop with shared tools (so not everyone has to own a separate set), shared laundry facilities, and so on makes a lot of sense to me. So long as the boundary between privacy and common activity is maintained (and I like the idea of contributing to work days and the like), it sounds pretty cool.The ethos of the place can also be a factor, though. Some of the cohousing communities can be a little too "crunchy" for me - too dogmatic about one particular issue, for example. Some of my favorite examples also take existing housing and reconfigure them by taking down fencelines and using outbuildings as "common" areas rather than building new housing on existing open space.

    In my youth, I had a strong interest in the idea of the commune, but ultimately felt that I didn't want to forsake family and friends to live on some remote piece of land self-sufficiently. What is nice about cohousing is that they are often in urban areas and people have jobs outside the cohousing community, integrating them into a wider web of social relations.

    A few other examples I find compelling:

    Village Homes in Davic, CA: http://www.villagehomesdavis.org/

    La Luz, designed by Antoine Predock in 1969 in Albuquerque: http://www.sucasamagazine.com/Autumn...es/la_luz.html

    Also, there is a magazine/website called Intentional Communities with lots of info on different models and much more than you ever cared to know: http://www.ic.org/
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  3. #3
    Yes, I agree about cohousing and intentional community. If you feel a calling to live in or near one, begin exploring. There are many people who feel the same way about wanting to live around like-minded people, while wishing to maintain privacies and freedoms.

    For one, I live in Los Angeles and the urban EcoVillage here is a constant source of joy and inspiration for the ideals of life in an urban environment. I feel many city planners have a great deal to learn from actual street experience vs. lofty drafting-room theories.

    I also understand the challenges inherent in planning a large and growing space with many variables. Perhaps a return to a time of less planning, more chaos, and some natural selection.

  4. #4
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    I've been interested in ecovillages for about two decades, and wanting to either join or collaborate on the creation of such a community for almost as long.

    Now my partner and I are seeking rural land upon which to begin to grow such a community, starting small. We've located an eight acre, undeveloped, parcel in a rural / farming area which we're exploring as what may be called a "seed site". These eight acres may be subdivided into four contiguous two acre lots, allowing for four homesites. The fact that each community member can sell if he/she needs to, or chooses to, seems to offer several important advantages over other schemes in which all land is held in common. But authority over who may join the community, and thus purchase a developed lot, will have to be held by the community as a whole.

    Besides requiring green building principles / application in all aspects of home and infrastructure development, one basic design principle we have in mind is to invite only those who intend to grow a very large portion of their own food -- mainly in the form of fruits, nuts, vegetables, eggs. Grains may be produced nearby as the community evolves.

    Another basic design requirement is that access to living in our community is affordable, in relative terms. So land can't cost the usual arm and leg and a shared well would be great....

    I'd be happy to share our process here with you as it unfolds--, and ask the experts for any design or conceptual help we may be needing.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Damn Commie Planners!

    This sort of stuff did not have the traction to go anywhere, it was politically a hot potato, but when in reality it already existed as site condominiums. Though you would pay a fee to do the public work. Americans are too lazy and anyting that is a commune.. well in the cold war that was the same as being a commie.

    The 70's were an interesting time, from what I can remember of it. No I wasn't stoned... I was 3 when they began. I still remember dirty hippies and being told not to lick the stickers if given to me by a big kid.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  6. #6
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jrivermartin View post
    I've been interested in ecovillages for about two decades, and wanting to either join or collaborate on the creation of such a community for almost as long.

    Now my partner and I are seeking rural land upon which to begin to grow such a community, starting small. We've located an eight acre, undeveloped, parcel in a rural / farming area which we're exploring as what may be called a "seed site". These eight acres may be subdivided into four contiguous two acre lots, allowing for four homesites. The fact that each community member can sell if he/she needs to, or chooses to, seems to offer several important advantages over other schemes in which all land is held in common. But authority over who may join the community, and thus purchase a developed lot, will have to be held by the community as a whole.

    Besides requiring green building principles / application in all aspects of home and infrastructure development, one basic design principle we have in mind is to invite only those who intend to grow a very large portion of their own food -- mainly in the form of fruits, nuts, vegetables, eggs. Grains may be produced nearby as the community evolves.

    Another basic design requirement is that access to living in our community is affordable, in relative terms. So land can't cost the usual arm and leg and a shared well would be great....

    I'd be happy to share our process here with you as it unfolds--, and ask the experts for any design or conceptual help we may be needing.
    Share away. I'm just down the road from you in Albuquerque, so I have an additional interest in seeing how things might unfold.

    I have a few comments with regards to ownership and the worries you have about land held in common. You might want to look at how this issue is handled in co-housing arrangements (which I believe use a condominium ownership structure) as well as community land trust (and the Sawmill CLT here in Albuquerque is an excellent resource). Both models have unusual communal ownership arrangements that are perfectly legal and adequately protect all owners should they decide to leave at any time.

    The advantage of some of these ownership structures is that it can allow you to cluster housing on one area of, say, your 8 acre lot and maintain the rest as a shared open space. This is better for wildlife habitats, for gardening/farming/animal husbandry, and gives all participants access to a large area to run wild. I lived on 1/2 acre in the South Valley for 9 years and I can tell you that it is plenty of land to live on, grow a LOT of food and still feel like you can't keep up. So, if you divided your 8 acre parcel into, say, 4 half or quarter acre lots for the housing, you could have access to 6 or 7 acres of open space!! Managed well, this could essentially be a nature preserve and there are even federal programs that allow you to designate such areas a wildlife habitats and enjoy some tax relief as well.

    Just a suggestion. A good resource for looking into this idea of shared land/resources as well as determining the ideal locations on property to build is by a New Mexico author/architect named Tony Anella (and called "Saving the Ranch"). Here is a link to an Amazon page where they let you flip through the book a bit.

    And there are some co-housing projects in and around Santa Fe:

    The Commons seems a bit higher end.

    Tres Placits del Rio


    and ElderGrace, a very interesting model for co-housing for older residents, including in-house end-of-life care. The buildings are fully equipped with ADA compliant amenities, oxygen lines, living quarters for live-in care and other things needed for in-home care. They also evidently negotiated a collective insurance coverage arrangement for all residents. Pretty cool.

    Anyway, some places one might want to visit to get ideas.

    There was another co-housing group that seems to have evaporated in SF. It was more scrappy - they bought a property with some existing buildings in need of repair. Don't know what ever happened to that one.

    Good luck on your adventure!
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  7. #7
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    Wahday,

    Thanks for all of your suggestions and "heads up"!

    Given that you live nearby and have such knowledge, I'd at least like to invite you to be a consultant to the project. If you agree to serve as a consultant, I'll promise not to bother you for much unpaid time (just occasional Q&A feedback and help figuring out way through the labyrinth). Well, and if we have to ask for more of your time we can promise lots of boxes of eggs, vegetables, fruits.... And then if we require even more we will pay you.

    Alternatively, you can apply to become a founding member. There are two founding members at present, and three is pretty much max for Phase One of project development.

    Questions and responses to -- James R. Martin - jrivermartin [at] gmail [dot] com

  8. #8

    conservation subdivisions

    I am very interested in conservation subdivisions. It is an efficient way to preserve water quality and natural areas when done correctly following noted planner Randall Arendt's simple 4 step process.

  9. #9
    Member
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    Apr 2010
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    Traralgon, Vic, Australia
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    Eco-villages

    I did some time with Urban Ecology in South Australia. A very committed group of people and Urban Ecology kicked off the globel eco/village/city conference held every two years. I recommend the conference proceedings for some interesting reading. Urban Ecology also go into some of the deeper questions relating to a sustainable/ethical society and what that means for human settlements.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian fringe's avatar
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    A group in a neighboring county bought 260 ac, laid out six 10 ac homesites, declared the blance in common ownership. Site includes a mile or so of river frontage. Ownership contract is modelled on condominium.

    They have been there since 1990, though common activities have been minimal, except for parties on a permanent ox-bow sandbar at the river.

    An almost adjacent parcel to mine is 270 ac occupied by a Christian community that moved there in 1979 (the same yr as Jonestown).

    They have thrived and have a lot of community activity going on, except they mainly just do service work inside of what they call their "missions".

    One mission is an anti-death penalty activity.

    The other is giving shelter to victims of violence, wherever it might be. Ergo, where there is war going on, they get refugees therefrom.

    They established with an intent of sheltering Asian refugees from Vietman/Cambodia, but by the time they were ready, the stream of people was from Central America, where Reagan waged his proxy wars.

    Since then they have had Bosnians, Sudanese, Chadians, some christian Iraqis.

    They also have been active in International Habitat, and helped start Habitat in Jordan and Egypt. A couple of their leaders withheld income taxes calculated to equal prorated share of tax money spent on war, sent letters with their returns, and did battle with IRS over their returns. IRS finally gave up and quit bothering them.

    They have a large community garden and get volunteer staff from all over the world, as well as several acres of blueberries. They sell those but have yet to offer pick-your-own, choosing instead to give away berry picking days to different groups. All the money they make on berries goes to local Habitat.
    Last edited by Gedunker; 26 Apr 2010 at 3:32 PM. Reason: seq. posts

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